Scotland have too many glaring holes and are poised for a battering at Euro 2024

Jason Soutar
Scotland have reason to be pessimistic ahead of Euro 2024
Scotland have reason to be pessimistic ahead of Euro 2024

Scotland have nothing to lose at Euro 2024 but that doesn’t mean they should fly in two-footed without fear; barring a minor miracle, the Tartan Army will swiftly depart Germany with their tails between their legs.

Qualifying for this summer’s European Championships was a breeze for Steve Clarke’s men, who secured a place in Germany with two games to spare. They finished above Norway, Georgia and Cyprus, with Spain topping Group A by four points. Scotland even beat the Spaniards 2-0 at Hampden Park on a famous March evening, that left Rodri (and his 75% possession) crying about the purity of the game.

Such a comfortable qualification campaign is extremely uncharacteristic for the Scotland national team but that is a reflection on the excellence of Steve Clarke. Scott McTominay scored seven goals in qualifying and the former Chelsea assistant’s ability to bring the best out of several players has gained him plenty of plaudits and boosted optimism in a country previously bereft of such a thing.

You’d think all of this would raise expectations heading into the Euros, but that is not the case. Not in the mind of this pessimistic Scot anyway.

Sure, the Tartan Army will travel to Germany and have a better, louder time than any other group of fans, that is the Scotland way, but on the pitch, injuries and opponents make for bleak reading. Hosts Germany on the first night could be a bloodbath but Scotland may benefit from the fact Julian Nagelsmann’s side will not be in any form of groove come June 14. Switzerland and Hungary are also very dangerous and have as good a chance as the Germans of topping Group A.

Scotland’s chances of doing so are minimal at best. There is obviously always a chance. This is football after all. Leicester City won the 2015/16 Premier League. Greece won Euro 2004. Liverpool overturned a 3-0 deficit in a Champions League final. Manchester United beat Manchester City in the FA Cup final. This is the sport we all love and loathe at the same time.

Scotland injury woes threaten to curtail Euro 2024 hopes

Lyndon Dykes has been ruled out of Euro 2024 after an injury that saw him on a stretcher in a pre-tournament training session. This is no doubt a blow as he has proven himself to be an important player for his country, but it is far from the end of times for Scotland. Regardless of Dykes’ availability, they are pretty stuffed in the striker department anyway.

Clarke will once again rely on furtive striker McTominay’s eye for goal, with fellow midfielder John McGinn also likely to be a goalscoring threat in Germany. Lawrence Shankland could potentially shine but the difference in performance from Hearts to Scotland is night and day. Like Ollie Watkins for Aston Villa/England, Shankland looks lost at international level. Even against a lowly opponent like Gibraltar.

Centre-back is another weak position for Scotland and has been for decades. There are no injury problems here; it’s just that the quality is lacking. Same with goalkeeper. If you watched Leeds United batter Norwich City in the play-offs, you know that a Euro 2024 team with Angus Gunn as its No. 1 are in a sticky situation.

Where the biggest problem lies is right-back. There is a glaring hole left by the absence of Nathan Patterson and, more crucially, Aaron Hickey. The Brentford full-back walks straight into Clarke’s strongest XI but has been missing since last November due to a hamstring problem. It was always going to be a push to see him feature this summer but there was always hope.

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Patterson, meanwhile, is a downgrade on Hickey but a capable replacement nonetheless. There would not be too many Scotland fans aggrieved to see him play every minute this summer.

Where does Steve Clarke go in this position? In Monday’s friendly against Gibraltar it was Bristol City’s Ross McCrorie who filled in. McCrorie played right-back, right-midfield and centre-back in the Championship this season and will likely get the nod in the tournament opener against Germany. The friendly against Finland might be a better indication.

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The former Rangers and Aberdeen man can do a job but there are fears that he will have his pants pulled down by any winger at this level. Germany have Jamal Musiala and Florian Wirtz interchanging and that is enough to make any Scotland fan uneasy. Hungary will likely have Dominik Szoboszlai and Milos Kerkez matched up against the Scotland right-back and Switzerland have dangermen in Ruben Vargas, Zeki Amdouni, Dan Ndoye and Noah Okafor.

Jack Hendry is a decent option, while Celtic’s Anthony Ralston appears to quite rightly be an emergency option. Some are calling for Kieran Tierney and while he is a fine player, his game is not suited to playing on the right. Taking into account every gap in this Scotland squad, right-back should be regarded as a black hole.

Clarke will not rip everything up and go with a back five after testing it out in the calamitous friendly against Northern Ireland in March, but if he does, it seems like James Forrest will be the one getting his pants pulled down at right-wing-back.

On paper, this Scotland team never had enough to top Group A at Euro 2024 but there was always the optimism that something special was on the horizon. For me anyway, that balloon has been burst with Switzerland, Hungary and Germany in a strong position to leave the Tartan Army bottom of their group with two goals scored. If they’re lucky.

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